Skip to main content

Indira’s Congress successors showed ‘no interest’, lacked capacity to build party

By Anand K Sahay*

Significant public discussion around the recent defection of Jyotiradatya Scindia and the proto-defection of Sachin Pilot, political dynasts who gained traction early in life primarily on the strength of their proximity to the command headquarters (owing to their lineage), has centred on the state of ennui that is said to envelop the party’s top leadership.
If only Sonia or Rahul Gandhi had acted in time to soothe the fraying nerves of these young men who deserved greater rewards than those they have been bestowed, they would not hobnob with the BJP, runs the refrain.
This is a mistaken notion, for the woes of the Congress party are traceable to complex causes, not Mills and Boon fantasies where dashing young men are meant to be romantically pursued.
In fact, arguments such as these are calculated to whittle the Nehru-Gandhi idea of constitutionalism rooted in rule of law precepts -- with a dose of welfarism. It is interesting that these arguments are being advanced in an era in which the idea of the supremacy of a single religious community seeks to bulldoze policy-making by dismissing old-style constitutionalism rooted in the independence movement. More, they condone the act of defection itself even when it is for no higher purpose than self-aggrandisement.
Even if Pilot’s venture does succeed on the heels of Scindia’s brazenness in backing the ideologues of the communal agenda, a mocking question will remain: “Would there be high-profile turncoats if the Congress still ran the Centre even if it was organisationally hollow and the Gandhis were ditherers?”
That said, it is evident -- and worrying -- that the most striking political feature of our day is the advancing of crypto-fascist majoritarian tendencies while the principal opposition party is in an enervated state. One is in fact not a result of the other, although some -- even in the Congress -- may believe this to be the case.
At the same time, it is also clear that the dominant current trend in which life, culture, politics and society are sought to be steamrollered and homogenised under a repressive one- party order seems impossible to challenge without the strengthening of the main opposition party which alone has nationwide recognition and spread.
Historically, the Congress’ decline owes to two key factors -- and not the ideological or political misconduct attributed to the present set of the Gandhis, though they have been remote and sometimes high-handed in their style, and shown a sophomoric preference for individualism, even dilettantism, rather than collective endeavour.
The first of these is the coming of age by 1967 (when the Congress lost state polls widely across India) of the social forces that were enabled, in the first place, to come into their own through the progressive policies of earlier Congress governments and now sought to carve out separate political spaces for themselves on a regional basis.
Two, in the aftermath of the Emergency and the electoral rout of Indira Gandhi, the rank fecklessness and inability of the ‘pro-class’ anti-Congress and ex-Congress elements led by Morarji Desai and Chandra Shekhar, the socialists (Jaya Prakash Narayan, Madhu Limaye), and the free-wheeling caste parties masquerading as peasant radicals (Charan Singh), in the ruling Janata Party combine to cohere and show the way -- in effect to be a somewhat right-of-centre replacement for the defeated Congress.
These factions, in fact, became jelly before an ideologically determined and crafty competitor, the Bhartiya Jana Sangh (BJP’s forerunner), within the Janata Party fold, with the former Congress socialist Jaya Prakash Naryan -- who Nehru had sometime visualised as his successor -- shockingly ending up as a mascot for the RSS-Jana Sangh, presenting anti-Congress politics in independent India its first defining moment.
Gandhis would render real service to their party -- and the country -- if they, in calibrated fashion, midwifed the birth of a new leadership through an internal election process
These structural fault-lines in the political space supplemented the earlier Bonapartist (and patrician) direction imparted to the Congress -- in the run-up to the Emergency (which also had other important causes) -- by the charismatic Indira Gandhi. With her aura undiminished, she triumphantly returned as Prime Minister after the inglorious Janata interregnum, but by then, organisationally, there remained no Congress party to speak of.
Indira was moulded through organisational, political and ideological struggles within the Congress party, but those who carried her family name in politics can be said to be wholly devoid of that distinction. Indira’s Congress successors -- not just her son Rajiv but also others like Congress chief Sitaram Kesri and Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao -- showed no interest in building the Congress organisation, and undoubtedly lacked the capacity for the task.
In the subsequent period, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi have proved just as uninterested and inept, although the UPA government of Manmohan Singh under Sonia’s stewardship of the Congress, recorded striking governmental successes unlike Narendra Modi, who has executed only disastrous policies that have harmed India. The ten UPA years yielded an average annual growth rate of nearly eight per cent and pulled 275 million people out of poverty, according to the UN.
The intrinsic value of the Gandhis to the Congress is undeniable. The Congress’ and the Gandhis’ real ideological and political foe, the RSS-BJP, understands this better than anyone, and therefore the Modi government harasses and maligns them without pause.
And yet, it is a counterfeit argument that the Gandhis must always be at the helm for voters to give the Congress a second look. The Gandhis would in fact render real service to their party -- and the country -- if they, in calibrated fashion, midwifed the birth of a new leadership through an internal election process, and then with sincerity offered themselves for service under the new organisational umbrella.
Rahul Gandhi showed the perfect democratic instinct -- in copybook style -- when he stepped aside from the Congress president’s post last year, announcing that no one from his family will succeed him. His fundamental mistake was he didn’t stay put to implement his plan. He now has a second chance. He can help float the Congress (much as economists speak of floating the rupee to let it find its level).
Since Bihar state polls are near, this cannot be done right away. However, the first step can be taken across India immediately -- to launch a massive enrolment drive. This may put life in the party even in Bihar by creating some legitimate political excitement -- and dynamism and hope. There is no other way to challenge the deeply communal project given the deceptive name of “New India”.
---
*Senior journalist based in Delhi. A version of this article first appeared in the "Asian Age"

Comments

TRENDING

August 22 to be observed as Apostasy Day: International coalition of ex-Muslim groups

By Our Representative
In a unique move, an international coalition of ex-Muslim organisations has decided to observe August 22, 2020 as the Apostasy Day. To be observed for “the abandonment or renunciation of religion”, the coalition, calling upon people to join the call, said, the decision to observe the Apostasy Day has been taken because of apostasy is “punishable by death in Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, UAE, and Yemen.”

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

By Our Representative
Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book, "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

RSS' 25,000 Shishu Mandirs 'follow' factory school model of Christian missionaries

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*
The executive committee of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (IUAES) recently decided to drop the KISS University in Odisha as the co-host of the World Anthropology Congress-2023. The decision is driven by the argument that KISS University is a factory school.

India must recognise: 4,085 km Himalayan borders are with Tibet, not China

By Tenzin Tsundue, Sandeep Pandey*
There has as been a cancerous wound around India’s Himalayan neck ever since India's humiliating defeat during the Chinese invasion of India in 1962. The recent Galwan Valley massacre has only added salt to the wound. It has come to this because, when China invaded the neighbouring country Tibet in 1950, India was in high romance with the newly-established communist regime under Mao Zedong after a bloody revolution.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur*
Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Time to give Covid burial, not suspend, World Bank's 'flawed' Doing Business ranking

By Maju Varghese*
On August 27, the World Bank came out with a statement suspending the Doing Business Report. The statement said that a number of irregularities have been reported regarding changes to the data in the Doing Business 2018 and Doing Business 2020 reports, published in October 2017 and 2019. The changes in the data were inconsistent with the Doing Business methodology.

Delhi riots: Cops summoning, grilling, intimidating young to give 'false' evidence

Counterview Desk
More than 440 concerned citizens have supported the statement issued by well-known bureaucrat-turned-human rights activist Harsh Mander ‘We will not be silenced’ which said that the communal riots in Delhi in February 2020 have not been caused by any conspiracy, as alleged by the Delhi Police, but by “hate speech and provocative statements made by a number of political leaders of the ruling party.”

WHO chief ignores India, cites Pak as one of 7 top examples in fight against Covid-19

By Our Representative
In a move that would cause consternation in India’s top policy makers in the Modi government, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization (WHO) director-general, has singled out Pakistan among seven countries that have set “examples” in investing in a healthier and safer future in order to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tata Mundra: NGOs worry as US court rules World Bank can't be sued for 'damages'

By Kate Fried, Mir Jalal*
On August 24 evening, a federal court ruled that the World Bank Group cannot be sued for any damage caused by its lending, despite last year’s Supreme Court ruling in the same case that these institutions can be sued for their “commercial activity” in the United States.